REVIEW: Red Mass for Mars

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Introductions are in order. Meet Mars, the proverbial God of War. His arrival on our planet in the 800s is met with some trepidation. Many see him as a threat that needs to be terminated. At least one individual senses the potential and seeks to sculpt the child into the world’s greatest warrior. As it turns out, these aspirations were far too meager. Our boy was meant for the stars.

TITLE: RED MASS FOR MARS (TPB Collecting Issues 1 to 4)
WRITER: JONATHAN HICKMAN, MICHAEL GARLAND
ARTIST: RYAN BODENHEIM
COLORS: JONATHAN HICKMAN, MICHAEL GARLAND
LETTERS: JONATHAN HICKMAN
COVER: JONATHAN HICKMAN
PUBLISHER: IMAGE COMICS

Hun-Du, You Say!

Red Mass For Mars is a futuristic tale set in the year 2115, human civilization is at the cusp of extinction by way of an invading race known as Hun-Du. Mankind’s only hope is recruiting the powerful talents of Mars, who now lives in self-imposed exile on the planet that shares his name.

Marcus, a precognitive that sees glimmers of the future has helped steer the human race towards a vision of perfection, referred to within this volume as Utopia. Our visionary has an ambitious, odds-defying hail mary in his back pocket, but enlisting the power of Mars is a fundamental requirement for success. Mars wants nothing to do with Earth and despite pleas from Marcus, a man described by Mars as the closest thing he has to a friend, says that we’re on our own.

Not willing to concede humanity’s bleak fate, Marcus assembles the totality of the world’s super-powered entities, preparing to go into what is likely to be our final battle.

This Guy Knows How To WRITE

Jonathan Hickman is one of Marvel’s strongest writers. His work is cerebral, meticulously crafted and character driven. He infuses his stories with big themes and never fails to give attentive readers a well-constructed geography of his creative landscape. His independent work at Image Comics is perhaps the most demonstrative showcase for his arcane abilities with sequential storytelling. With a strong background in graphic design, Hickman always keeps an eye on the aesthetics while composing his stories with great swaths of text. Even in the Marvel Universe, he designs the collected editions of his books.

Red Mass For Mars draws upon influences of Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan and like many superhero tales, bleeds thematic references to Christianity. Like all of Hickman’s work, this is an ambitious story that entertains while engaging the reader’s mind. Having said that, there are some criticisms that have influenced my overall rating for the book.

One of the most dramatic action sequences involving almost all of Earth’s superheroes takes place off panel. The reader is led down a path of deduction, but this would have made for some amazing visual dynamics. Instead, we get a blow-by-blow depiction of fisticuffs between Earth’s mightiest hero and the leader of the Hun-Du. While this engagement is poignant and appears to be Hickman’s choice for the ultimate conflict within the story, it’s essentially a glorified slugfest with only one real moment of tactical precision.

25 Months For 4 Issues?

One of the major roadblocks for the series have been the incredible delays between releases. Issue 1 debuted on Diamond’s top 300 chart on June, 2008 with approximately 6,369 copies sold. Issue 2 dropped 4 months later at 5,290 copies and the 3rd issue didn’t come out until June of 2009 with 4,732 copies sold. By the time the 4th issue was released this past July, it barely breached 4,000 copies. By this point, the 4 issue series had taken 25 months to be completed and most readers had long since forgotten about the book or elected to hold out for the collected edition (like yours truly).

I’m not sure of the reasons behind the delays. I will say that the artwork provided by Ryan Bodenheim is incredibly detailed and skillfully rendered. His depictions of spacecraft and futuristic architecture are a sight to behold. It wouldn’t be at all surprised if monthly schedules were not in the cards due to the laborious art chores.

Good If Not Great

This is a good book that had all the makings of being great. If you’re a fan of space epics, dense storytelling and intricate line work, you could do much worse than buying a copy of Red Mass For Mars. I always enjoy reading Hickman’s work and this collected edition earns 3.5 stars out of 5.

Rating: ★★★½☆